Amazon Echo, Google Home, It’s almost like a police state

If you received one of those home digital assistants, like Amazon Echo or Google Home, over the holidays, you might want to listen closely. Privacy experts are keeping a close watch on the case of a Bentonville, Arkansas, man who was charged with murder after prosecutors obtained a warrant to receive data from his Amazon Echo, a voice-activated device that’s always listening and often recording. James Andrew Bates says he’s innocent of the murder of Victor Collins, who was found strangled in Bates’s hot tub. Prosecutors hope to search audio recordings on Bates’s Amazon Echo for clues.

So far lawyers for Amazon have refused to comply with the warrant, and experts say it’s unlikely the device was recording at the time of the murder. But the case has drawn national attention and alarmed civil liberties groups. Bates’ lawyer, Kimberly Weber, told USA Today, “I have a problem [that] a Christmas gift that is supposed to better your life can be used against you. It’s almost like a police state,” she said.

Marc Rotenberg talking:

These are a category of consumer devices that we refer to as always-on devices. To operate, they literally have to be listening to the user to interpret the instruction and to act on it. The companies say that they rely solely on the wake words, which, for Echo, for example, might be “Alexa”; for Apple, it might be “Siri.” But the problem turns out to be quite a bit more complex, because, first of all, the devices are easily triggered. People have had the experience—when a radio is on in the background, for example, it can alert the device. Also, we have found that in a number of these new consumer products, when companies say that the privacy protection measures work, in fact, they don’t. A very famous example of that occurred with Snapchat. Snapchat was telling its users that it would delete photos, that they would literally vanish once they were sent. But, of course, that’s not what Snapchat was doing. They were simply changing filenames, and the photos could be retrieved. We had a similar experience, by the way, with a search company called AskEraser. It said it was deleting all search queries—except for the ones that law enforcement wanted.

So, this is the reason that, actually, more than a year ago, EPIC went both to the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice, and we said, “You really need to look closely at these products.” We’re obviously not against new technology that helps consumers and is certainly a bit of fun, but at the same time we need a better understanding of how they operate. What information about the user is being collected? How reliable are these wake words? And most significantly in this case, how can it be that the company is actually in possession of information that could be useful to law enforcement? Because, of course, if you play back the tape a little bit and think about what Mr. Snowden showed us regarding the collection and use of telephone logs, for example, it would be quite easy to imagine a company such as Amazon could persistently retain this type of data on all of its users and make it available to law enforcement in a whole variety of circumstances unrelated to criminal investigations. So there are a lot of important policy issues here, a lot of important legal issues here, that we think both the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice need to look at much more closely.

when we go into these investigations, the companies often say, “Well, we can’t tell you exactly what type of information we’re retaining on our consumers. We can’t tell you exactly the technique of the wake word or how much data is being retained.” And this immediately, I think, should be a warning to those who do public oversight and help enforce important privacy safeguards, that if the companies can’t establish that the products work as they’re supposed to work—for example, they only record when the wake word is being used—then there’s a real problem.

And another point which I think is important to keep in mind is that this is not just a debate about law enforcement access to personal information. I think we’re familiar with that debate. We’ve had it also around the Apple iPhone. These are also devices in the home that can be exploited by criminal hackers. In other words, once you put a device like a Echo in your home, someone can gain remote access to that device and may be able to listen into private communications. This has certainly been the experience with webcams on laptops and the reason that a lot of people are now placing post-it notes on top of those webcams to prevent that type of surreptitious remote recording. But this can also happen with audio devices in the home. And it’s the reason that we think law enforcement and the FTC actually have a responsibility to protect consumers from that type of unwanted listening.

next week the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold two days of hearings on Senator Sessions to be the attorney general. I think it is absolutely vital for that committee to ask the nominee his views about privacy, about some of these new surveillance techniques, about what the appropriate limitations should be. I don’t think there’s any real dispute that for a proper criminal investigation or even for a national security matter, where there’s legal authority and a judicial determination, that searches are appropriate. But if we’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s that these techniques can be used for the public at large. And there is a real risk right now, with the growing use of these consumer devices connected to the internet—it’s not just Alexa, it’s thermostats, it’s, you know, connected toys—that the government will take advantage of all this personal data that’s being collected for the type of mass surveillance that I don’t think we could permit. So the attorney general really needs to be asked about this issue. And we need to get—I should say, in fact, the nominee to be attorney general should be asked about this issue, and we should get his views.

Marc Rotenberg
executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

— source

Environmental police in Beijing

A new police force will crack down on environmental offenders in Beijing, city officials announced Saturday, marking the Chinese government’s latest attempt to reduce smog.

The environmental police squad was one of several new measures introduced by Cai Qi, acting mayor of Beijing, this weekend. Other measures included cutting coal use by 30 percent in 2017, shutting down 500 higher-polluting factories and upgrading 2,500 others, phasing out 300,000 higher-polluting older vehicles, and supplying cleaner gas and diesel at fuel stations starting Feb. 15. The announcement came one day after municipal authorities in Beijing announced they would install air purifiers in the city’s schools and kindergartens.

— source

US police killed more than 1,150 in 2016

At least 1,152 people were killed by police in the United States in 2016 according to the tracking site While the total number of killings documented is slightly down from 2015’s total of 1,208, police continued to kill at the rate of three people every day.

The number of people killed by police every year in the United States far dwarfs those killed by police in every other major advanced capitalist country. In 2015, for example, US cops killed 100 times more people than German police, despite the US having only about four times Germany’s population. Meanwhile in the UK only 14 people were killed by police in 2014.

— source

35 Palestinian children were killed by IOF in 2016

The Defense for Children International (DCI) – Palestine Branch said that the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) killed 35 Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem in 2016.

Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program Director at the Palestine section of the DCI, told the Quds Press news agency that 2016 recorded the highest number of murders committed by the IOF against Palestinian children in the West Bank and Jerusalem in 12 years, pointing out that the number of children killed in 2015 in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem had reached 26.

— source

Some 1,900 People Died Under Police Custody

A new report by the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that around 1,900 people were killed as they were being arrested in 2015, with two-thirds of that number being intentionally murdered by law enforcement authorities. Arrest-related deaths (ARD), as its name suggests, and according to the Bureau, can happen anytime between the detention of a person to their potential death during lock-up. The report found that about 64 percent of those deaths were described as homicides, which includes murder in self-defense and otherwise. Another 18 percent were suicides, and 11 percent were ruled accidents.

— source

TigerSwan Security, Linked to Blackwater, Now Coordinates Intel for Dakota Access

In North Dakota, more than 100 Native Americans and allies fighting the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline have been injured by police who attacked them with rubber bullets, tear gas, mace canisters and water cannons in freezing temperatures Sunday night. The attack began after the water protectors attempted to clear access to a public bridge, which has been blocked by authorities using military equipment chained to concrete barriers. Legal observers with the National Lawyers Guild said multiple people temporarily lost consciousness after being shot. Witnesses say one elder also went into cardiac arrest and was revived on the scene by medics. Many people were treated for hypothermia after being hit by water cannons in freezing temperatures. Water protectors say the police also fired rubber bullets at journalists, shot down drones being used to document the attack. Both the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe sent medical first aid responders.

Sunday’s attack comes as water protectors face an increasingly militarized crackdown against the movement to stop the Dakota Access pipeline over concerns the construction will destroy sacred tribal burial sites and that a pipeline spill could contaminate the Missouri River. The state of North Dakota has approved $10 million to police the ongoing resistance. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has activated the National Guard. Over 400 people have been arrested during the ongoing protests, and many report being subjected to strip searches while in the Morton County jail in North Dakota.

The water protectors have also faced attacks and surveillance from private security companies working for the Dakota Access pipeline company. On September 3rd, unlicensed private security guards unleashed attack dogs on Native Americans trying to protect a tribal burial site from destruction. The private security firm TigerSwan security is in charge of coordinating intelligence for the Dakota Access pipeline company. TigerSwan has links to the now-defunct mercenary firm Blackwater.

Jeremy Scahill talking:

first of all, let’s remember that we’re speaking a week when there’s the big American holiday, Thanksgiving, and I always think of the slaughter of the indigenous people in this country around this time of year and people like Leonard Peltier, the political prisoner who—unfortunately, it seems like yet another president is going to leave office without pardoning Leonard Peltier. But to watch what we’re seeing come out of the protesters on this—the protectors on this indigenous land, facing down against environmental-destroying companies, you know, really brings home the kind of utter hypocrisy of the narrative about the United States of America. But also, if you look at the way that these indigenous people and their supporters are being treated versus the Bundy ranchers, you know, who didn’t occupy their native land—they went and they took over federal land with weapons and ended up getting acquitted, including of the charges that they were very clearly guilty of, which is all these weapons possession charges—and it makes you wonder, if this is the state of affairs under President Obama, who actually has visited Native reservations and Native territories, what’s going to happen under Trump?

And this firm, TigerSwan, was founded by a Delta Force operative named James Reese and has done voluminous amounts of covert and overt work for the U.S. military in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. And, you know, you realize that you have this convergence of all that has been so wrong in the post-9/11 world, with these big environment-destroying companies, the stripping even further of indigenous rights, private security forces, the brutality against protesters, the paramilitarization of law enforcement. And now our incoming president—I still feel strange saying that—Donald Trump also has business connections to the pipeline project? Is he going to divest? Is he going to—I mean, like, this is going to go from the level of Obama just being, you know, really bad on these policies to Trump actively trying to make it worse for the environment.

– in a recent interview, the head of the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, Kelcy Warren of Energy Transfer Partners, said he’s 100 percent confident that Trump will support the completion of the Dakota Access pipeline. Kelcy Warren has donated more than $100,000 to Trump’s campaign, while Trump himself gas between $500,000 and a million dollars invested in Energy Transfer Partners, according to his own disclosures.

no, and I remember, you know, you and I were talking about this back when—you know, when Cheney was coming in, and then we were talking about Enron, and we were talking about the people that they put on their commission about energy. You know, Trump’s choice of who he’s going to put in as energy secretary or secretary of the interior—they’re even talking about potentially Sarah Palin being the interior secretary. But, you know, I don’t know, was like, you know, Ronald McDonald not available? I mean, it’s really sick, some of the people. You know, putting Mike Huckabee in charge of health and human services, a guy who said that abortion is like worse than the Holocaust? And, I mean, it really feels like we’re watching a not-so-slowly moving train wreck in this country right now.

– Or even floating the idea that Joe Arpaio, who’s just been voted out as Maricopa County sheriff, would become head of homeland security. at 82 years old,

It would be an amusing, you know, Senate confirmation hearing. I mean, what’s potentially more likely, but in the same category, is Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County, who has, you know, said—called Black Lives Matter—he’s African-American himself, but has called Black Lives Matter subhuman, has said that there is no such thing as police brutality, who led the chants of “Blue lives matter” at the Republican National Convention and is a regular on Bill O’Reilly’s show and others on—and Hannity on Fox News.

Juan, one thing I forgot to mention when we were talking about the Cabinet that Trump is putting together on the national security level, we should remember that national security adviser is not Senate-confirmed. And it’s an extraordinarily powerful position that is—has definitions going back to 1947, but basically is like a parallel, unaccountable national security apparatus, and it’s very secretive how it operates, and it’s up to the whims of a particular administration. But also, Flynn and Mattis, if Mattis is to be defense secretary, would require waivers to be issued for them, because you’re not allowed to go from uniform within the last seven years to a civilian position without a waiver from Congress. Why is that? It’s because there has to be chain of command where civilians are directing the military; otherwise, you start to veer into territory of a military dictatorship or a military state. And it seems like that’s part of what Trump actually wants. It could be coincidence that these guys were just recent military people. But you do have to, because it’s Trump, take into account the possibility that he really does want what amounts to a dictatorship of the executive branch, where these policies actually are dictated by the military and not necessarily the civilian chain of command, outside of him and Pence.

the Morton County sheriffs, they released documents, internal documents, about their investigation into the dog handlers. And what they inadvertently revealed was that this company, TigerSwan, run by these Delta Force guys, was actually in charge of coordinating the intelligence operations against the protesters.

One word of advice to all the protesters there: Do not believe that your cellphones or your computers are clean and uncompromised. I guarantee you that they’re using the entire suite of surveillance devices. I know that people have been complaining that their cellphones have been down, their internet has been down. That can be caused by surveillance weaponry targeting their devices. It could be because there are so many people using them. But my guess would be that they are using people’s devices, meaning law enforcement and private security, as geo-tracking devices. And people should be very aware that the full CIA/NSA-developed suite of tools that now have made it into the hands of local law enforcement in this country are most certainly trained on those activists and their supporters.

Jeremy Scahill

co-founder of The Intercept. His latest book is The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program.

— source